SpecMusicMuse: Interview w/ Catherine Asaro & Donald Wolcott
A music CD based on an SF novel. How did that come about, and which came first?
CA: The novel came first. It’s about a futuristic rock star, so I wrote his songs as a way to give insight into his character. Each song has its own story. I had trouble at first with the lyrics because I had no music, and for me lyrics are intimately tangled up with the instrumentals. So I wrote some music. My first two songs, Starlight Child and Rubies, have a bit of a classical feel about them, since my background is in classical piano. But the songs basically are rock.
I was lucky to find the a band interested in doing the book’s soundtrack. In fact, the front man for the band, Hayim Ani, is the one who coined the term “soundtrack” for this project. His band, Point Valid, is from Baltimore, though now Hayim lives in Israel, where he’s in the army. He was the driving force among the musicians to complete the CD, and he and the band wrote a lot of the music. I finished writing the book while we were in the studio cutting the songs.
After Point Valid dispersed, off to college in different parts of the globe, Donald Wolcott joined the project. He and I cut an EP called Goodbye Note, which is a few covers, a rewrite of one of the Diamond Star songs, and an original by Donald with a fellow named Tomas Clark.
DW: The novel came first. Catherine’s book, Diamond Star is based on a rock star in the future, and as I understand it, it didn’t take long for someone to suggest that a “soundtrack” for the book be created. She began working on this with Point Valid (Baltimore based rock band). The band eventually dissolved, and that’s when I came into the picture. Catherine found me via craigslist. Initially, I was only aware that she was an aspiring vocalist looking for a pianist to help her work on her repertoire. I didn’t find out until later that she was an author or that she had a musical project relating to her book. I agreed to be involved in the project, and over the past year and a half, we have been working together on recording and performing music for the diamond star project.
How inspirational can music be to story writing, and how inspirational can stories be to writing music?
DW: Stories can sometimes be very inspirational to writing music, sometimes not so much. Despite not being much of a fan of country music, I will admit that there seems to be this magical ability among country music writers to really develop a story in the lyrics of a song. This feature is generally absent from the other genres of music I have listened to. I don’t usually write around a specific plot line when I write lyrics for a song. When I write, I tend to target a broader idea, situation, or emotion with the lyrics. I’ve found it’s easier for me to connect with the listener with a broader concept that is relatable among the masses. And honestly, conveying a compelling story in 2 or 3 verses, a chorus, and a bridge, all the while in rhyme and without sounding silly….IS REALLY HARD!
CA: For me, they’ve always been closely related. When I was a kid, I listened to rock all the time and made up stories in my mind. Those tales eventually became the Skolian books I write now about the Ruby Dynasty. And composing music for songs inspires me when I’m writing lyrics.
What directions/trends do you think SF in general is going, and music in general?
CA: Science fiction is becoming more multi-media. Nowadays, sales of a “book” are spread across more than the traditional hard-covers or paperbacks; it’s also audio books, on-line books, CDs, computer downloads — many different formats.
In the future, we will probably have holographic books. They’ll become interactive, letting you choose dialogue or plot lines. Farther into the future, books might have AIs that let you participate in the story. Eventually we’ll go into full virtual reality simulation of a “book.” We’ll be able to play in worlds that authors created or that we create ourselves. It’s going to be fun.
DW: From what I’ve noticed, musical trends seem to recycle themselves as time passes. If you thought The Beatles were over, check out Jet. If you like U2’s sound, listen to Muse. Remember the band “Yes”? Crossbreed that with an Ozzy Osbourne and you get one Dream Theater. That’s not to say that musicians or bands don’t have their own sound these days, but they’re all pulling from many of the same influences as they refine their sound. So I often hear a band and think “Hmmm this is like _____, but with a touch of ______ and sprinkled with some _______ on top.” And that can produce some really cool music.
The general exception to this rule is your garden variety bubble-gum pop music. That sound is mostly gonna be whatever the loyal viewers of the Disney Channel decide is cool this week.
Any future collaboration plans? Doing any concerts and stuff?
DW: Yup we’re gigging around…we’ve had some cool ones lately. Over the summer we performed in Houston, Orlando, and Raleigh; and we just recently did a performance in Copenhagen, Denmark.
We have some upcoming stuff too, I can never keep track of everything though…I think there is a reasonably up to date list here: http://events.myspace.com/435202578/Events/1
CA: Right now, I’m finishing another Ruby Dynasty book called Carnelians. After I turn that in, I’ll be working on a new novel with a soundtrack. Donald and I have started a few songs, but until I finish Carnelians, I can’t do much.
We do a concert or so every month, sometimes locally, sometimes at cons. A fairly up-to-date schedule is at: http:/www.myspace.com/starflightmusic
Where can people find your music CDs and books?
DW: I believe the music is on CDbaby.com and Itunes, and maybe some other places as well. Catherine can probably tell you better than I can.
CA: Thanks for asking! They can get our CDs at CD Baby. Here are links to both:
Diamond Star: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/pointvalidca
Goodbye Note: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/AsaroAndWolcott
The books are available from many places, both bookstores and online. The most recent SF books from Baen are here:
Fantasy is here:
The fantasy books are from Luna, which is Harlequin’s fantasy imprint. People think that when they see the Harlequin name, that means the books are genre romances, but they aren’t. The Luna line is all fantasy. My Luna books mostly do have romantic subplots, though.
As far as finding the books, I’d like to encourage folks to try the independent bookstores in their area. It’s a tough environment for the small booksellers, and it’s growing harder each year, especially in this economy. So any support folks can give them is great. If they don’t have a book, they can almost always order it for you.
If you can’t find my books anywhere else, my backlist is available from places Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble online. I think all the science fiction books are still in print, and most of the fantasy.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to musicians and
writers alike, what would it be?
DW: Hmmm it’s so hard to pick just one, I might have to give you a few.
Top 3 pieces of advice for musicians:
3) Yes, practice is very important. But performing is equally, if not MORE, important. DO NOT spend 8 months locked away practicing. Pick out or write some music you can handle for now, and get out there! There is no better way to learn than by doing, and 15 minutes on stage can teach you so much more than hours of meticulous practice.
2) Network and be professional. As a musician, your career can be immensely boosted by who you know. Meet other musicians, and stay in touch with them. Be a people person. If you want to get gigs, you have to be approachable, likeable, and reliable, just like any other job. You want people to remember you, appreciate you, and trust you. Good presentation pays out in the long run with more gigs. And after you do a gig, if at all possible GET A REFERENCE LETTER!!! Again, just like any other job, good references are valuable items that can be used and reused to sell yourself into the next gig.
1) LISTEN TO MUSIC. If you want to be good at playing music, you MUST listen to it. And listen to a lot of it. What professional athlete has ever gone out onto the field having watched only a couple of ballgames before? Listen to different kinds of music and think about what is happening in the music. Notice the similarities and the differences. You can learn new ideas and find useful ways to apply old ideas. There’s no official manual for making good music, so the more music you listen to, the more you are exposed to different ways to do it. And the more you are exposed to different ways of doing it, the easier those ways will be to learn and play. As a working musician, that type of flexibility among genres, styles, and even instruments can be a huge help. There’s the bassist who only plays classical symphonic repertoire. Then there’s the bassist who does classical, jazz, rock, bluegrass, can do acoustic upright bass or electric bass, and can also get by with a few chords on guitar if needed. Who’s going to get more work? So, listen to music, listen to different kinds of music, think about it, and find opportunities to apply it whenever you can.
CA: Don’t give up. Rejection is hard to take, but it’s a basic part of both professions. You have to keep submitting stories to editors, keep auditioning, keep looking for jobs. If you keep working at it and improving, you will eventually succeed.